A Conversation with Dhani Harrison
Mike Ragogna: Dhani, your new album In Parallel evokes Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music, plus what’s happening technologically in electronica. It sounds to me like possibly a blend of everything you've learned and accumulated over the years musically. Is that a fair assessment?
Dhani Harrison: That's totally sweet of you—all those references are very, very lovely. Yeah, I obviously grew up with the Bristol sound...English, nineties Bristol music, and I'm very much still into that today. I love bands like Orbital, things like that. I'm glad that you said Roxy Music because when I was listening back a couple months ago, I said, "Oh, there is kind of a little Roxy Music in there." When we were in France doing our radio tour, we decided to cover 2HB by Roxy Music.
MR: Beautiful. What are you listening to these days?
DH: I listen to a lot more soundtracks these days, in the background. A lot of Vangelis and stuff like that. But let me think of something new that I'm listening to... I was actually getting really into that singer who performed on the Massive Attack EP, a guy called Azekel. He's an English soul and R&B singer, his production is very interesting. I also listen to a bit of Nils Frahm.
MR: Speaking of soundtracks, you’ve contributed music to Beautiful Creatures, Good Girls Revolt and many other projects including your own band, Thenewno2. After many years of creating music for various projects, this is your first official solo album. Why in 2017 and not earlier?
DH: It's just good to get a chance to develop as an artist. Since I've released my last ...newno2 record, I haven't really had a chance to make a record. I've been slammed with films and TV. I did a show called The Divide, a show called Outsiders, the last two seasons. That was actually quite good last year. There were a couple more films, one called Learning To Drive and [another] called Seattle Road. The Seattle Road soundtrack kind of got me back into that headspace. I have to say that if you listen to that soundtrack and then listen to In Parallel, it's kind of the jumping point for the first few demos. Then obviously, I had about two years of film work. We just finished a show called White Famous that's coming out. We just finished the Shepard Fairey documentary as well, so it's been a very busy couple of years. I kept having to put my record on hold. I was working so much by myself that by the time I got to the point of what I was doing, I think all of my friends were in agreement that it was a solo record and everyone just wanted to help and contribute where they could, but it was kind of my thing. They convinced me. It was definitely John Bates from Big Black Delta who said, "You should give this record the release it deserves, use your own name for it," instead of being Thenewno2 again.
MR: In Parallel’s first song, "Never Know," sets up the tone and the mindset for the work, a mix of dreamscapes, poetry and opinions. It's an interesting mélange. Lyrically, what influenced what you say and how you say it?
DH: All the tracks are a series of paintings, basically—a series of sketches of different cities. A lot of the record travels. It goes from being in Paris to being in London to being in New York to being in LA. The album kind of finishes in LA. I think definitely the beginning of the record where it sets up the ominous tone is all kind of Paris-based. It's kind of hard to describe but we worked on it, me and Davide Rossi, who's another great composer. He's a chap that I've worked with who's done all the strings for like every Coldplay record; he was in The Verve, he was in Goldfrapp for ten years. He and I kind of wanted to have a set-up and a payoff for that one, so it's kind of disjointed in two parts but I think when you get to the end, it's another sketch of how things can go real dark.
MR: Your latest video and single, “All About Waiting”—the song you performed on The Jimmy Kimmel Show—seems strategically placed on the new album. I imagine sequencing was very crucial to In Parallel.
DH: This was always written in the order it was in, I think it's only "Summertime Police" that's slotted in to the middle of the record. The whole thing was written as a story arc. That was always the second to last track. I think that's a good way to look at it. If you want to get anywhere, there's got to be an evolution period, and that takes time. Here we are living in the future, 2017—the original Blade Runner was set in 2019. We're quite a far way off from even dystopia.
MR: [laughs] But if you look at what’s in the news on an hourly basis...
DH: ...forget the future. We're still way off from dystopia, which probably is a good thing.
MR: You mentioned "Summertime Police" before. What was going on in that song?
DH: John Bates and I wanted to do a record that continued on from this record that started when we were seventeen. It's like, "Okay, it's a flashback record and what's your currency when you're seventeen?" But it started to take on a life of its own and we thought, "Okay, this is a flashback sequence in the record then," because the story doesn't happen linearly. It took on a different life months after I wrote it. The news and watching the way America was, it took on a different feel. It became a bit mysterious, actually, when you look at what's going on out there.
MR: I also heard these questions in that song and perhaps throughout the album: "Do I lose my imagination? Do I lose my dreaming?”
DH: We're all magic. You can't give up on stuff like that. The very nature of the world around us wants us to be indoctrinated into all of these different doctrines, whether it's school, whether it's military, whether it's financial, whatever. It's definitely not teaching you how to stay magical.
MR: One of my favorites from the production and big group vocal section is "The Light Under The Door." I also love its concept. It makes you want to actually know what's beyond that door.
DH: Interesting. That term comes from a Vedic and Buddhist belief that says when you experience death or being around anything that is transforming in state from living to whatever it becomes next, you can only go up to the door. The other being has to cross over the threshold. Essentially, you get to see the light under the door, and it's kind of a blessing. You don't get to cross over but you still get to experience what's on the other side, even if it's just a slice shining on you.
MR: Beautiful. Recently, one of your close friends, Tom Petty, passed away. You lost your dad George a while back but I can imagine it feeling like yesterday to you. How do those major events affect your outlook and creativity?
DH: Anyone who's lost a parent will know that it's definitely stifling in terms of all of your points of reference being shattered. Anyone who's lost a parent understands the grieving that you have to move through. You can't just skirt around it. It's a life-changing experience. Even losing Tom the other day, the gravity of the situation like that has begun to set in. When you lose the dad in a family, it's heavy and it takes a long, long time. The outpouring of love and grief hasn't really begun yet with Tom. I haven't seen anything like this since my dad died. I haven't seen anything that's affected so many people. It's a very sad, interesting perspective because I see what it must have been like to watch what I went through.
MR: And speaking of other major figures in your family’s life, you dedicated your album to George Martin.
DH: Yes, and we all miss George. He was a lovely, lovely man, a fantastic composer and arranger and just generally one of the loveliest people. We definitely lost George during the making of this record and at a certain point, I was at Abbey Road with Paul Hicks and Giles Martin, his son. There's a whole other generation carrying on. People like George were integral to everything they did. The world wouldn't be the same without George Martin.
MR: You’re a member of an interesting extended family with James McCartney, Julian and Sean Lennon, Zac Starkey... I would even put Jakob Dylan, Harper Simon, Benjamin Taylor, Sarah Taylor, and others into that group, a generation of artists whose parents were archetypes. What kind of perspective do you have on that?
DH: There wouldn't be the music that we have now without them. Tom Petty, Paul Simon, my dad, Bob Dylan, we all get together and play each other's dad's songs. You've seen Petty Fest and Dylan Fest and George Fest and Fleetwood Mac Fest. That music has to be played. You can't just let it sit around. For me, it's an honor. I meet the challenge by making sure his records are in good nick, all of the studios are in good nick, all of the instruments are in good nick. If you have a piece of equipment that you use every day, it'll last you a hundred years. If you let it sit for ten years, it'll be done in ten years. You have to keep playing everything, even if they're not here. The studios must keep on making music and the instruments must keep being played. You have to make sure the songs are available to people. It's a lot of work.
MR: By the way, your dad borrowed my guitar when he was in Lancaster, Massachusetts, years ago, and he gave me a "Devil's Radio" promo pick.
DH: [laughs] Nice, I remember that place, it was sunny.
MR: What do you feel you’re achieving with solo recording that you can't achieve with Thenewno2?
DH: I think I'm achieving at making it a lot less confusing for people, especially composing. People want to see a name on a record. They don't necessarily want to see a soundtrack done by a nameless entity. Because I can compose under my own name, I think it's just about time everything gets put under one umbrella so it's a lot less confusing for people. If I want to do anything underground, I can always do that because I have my own label. But Thenewno2's on a break for a while.
MR: This is the last dad question I'm going to ask but I think The Concert For Bangladesh was the very first benefit concert with an associated album. It was extremely popular and successful. Do you see yourself doing something similar to that eventually? Or are you more comfortable being involved with projects in a low-key way?
DH: I work with UNICEF, and everything that's been raised from Bangladesh--which was an astronomical number since the concert came out, it's something ridiculous. We work with Global Citizens, we have the Peace award, which is a grant that goes towards humanitarian causes. I'm the director of my dad's charity, so we work on numerous projects. Even this concert, George Fest, all that money went to charity. It still happens. It's just happening in lots of different ways.
MR: Dhani, what advice do you have for new artists?
DH: Hang in there. [laughs] It's a tricky business. Try and find your team. That's the thing that's been so helpful for me. I have so many wonderful people that I'm inspired by and that I work with. We look after each other. We have a really good little family of bands and artists. It's very hard being a solo artist by yourself. It's good to be in bands, and I think this is something that my dad always said to me. There was only one Elvis, and that was a difficult thing. You looked at him and saw how hard it must have been being by himself. People who have a band around them have a family around them. Being in collaborative projects and having fun. Make sure you're having fun because there's no point in being a musician unless you're having fun doing it. I was just talking with Jools Holland about this the other day, he was saying how my dad didn't want to know anything about it unless it was fun. He'd done the hard work at the beginning. At the end, he just wanted to play music and be around inspiring people. I think that's really good for you. It's the same thing, if you're vibe-ing on a good frequency with people, that's making you happy. That's healing you. That's making you healthier even. If you get in a bad band, that can be a life-ruiner. You've got to be discriminate but at the same time, I think collaborating and sharing music is a very important thing.
MR: I want to share my last question with the director of Solar-Powered KRUU-FM, James Moore.
James Moore: Hey Dhani, I think this goes with your last comments. I got to see Tom Petty in June and I think the thing about him that's so transcendent is the joy of playing and the real celebration of life itself. All that runs through you. Can you comment a little further on that aspect of celebrating life in all its various forms? This record goes a lot of neat places.
DH: It's very important. There's no point being on stage if you're not enjoying it. It reflects through and shows in your work. You see someone like Tom who has so much life, and that's it. Collaborating, working with friends, having a gang, these are things that bring out the fun in music and it really shows in the music itself. I had a great time making this record. It wasn't an easy time but the experiences I went through and the people I got to work with and the relationships that came out of it, musically and with friends, it's a life-changer. I think it's a good place to start your conversation in life, making music.
[Note: This interview also was broadcast on Solar-Powered KRUU-FM.]
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with RedOne
Mike Ragogna: RedOne, as the main artist, today you’re releasing your single “Boom Boom,” adding to your recently released single “Don’t You Need Somebody.” Let’s discuss how you created it before we get into your history. Can you give us some background on how it came together from the writing to the finished recording?
RedOne: Yes. I had this idea to do incorporate the song that I love of “Lady” by Modjo but I didn’t want to do just a cover because with “On the Floor”—for Jennifer Lopez—I just took a little inspiration and gave it my own twist and it was number one in many countries. Same thing with this song, I incorporated one part and added new melodies, new lyrics, and a new backing track. I played it for French Montana and he loved it and we recorded it in my studio. Then later I was in a meeting with Dinah Jane from 5th Harmony. I played her this song and she went crazy about it and loved it. The same day it turned out to become a recording and we had fun. Then another artist recorded it too and we did the video in Morocco. And it was amazing. Right before releasing it, I had problems clearing the third artist, and then we took a break. So then it was up to me to find a new feature to take it to the next level that could fit the song and add a lot of value. So after a little while I decided to refresh the track and made it more global and made it more Latin influenced. And then the choice was so obvious to reach out to the King of Reggaeton, Daddy Yankee, to give it more authenticity. Daddy Yankee loved the fact that the video was set in Morocco and said, “Man, we need to go to Morocco.” So we went the second time to Morocco with Daddy Yankee and we had a lot of fun recording it. It is a blessing from God to have all these amazing people first and foremost, and global superstars at the same time.
MR: Since you've overseen the production or remixing for so many artists including Justin Bieber, Mary J. Blige, Shakira, One Direction, Pitbull, Lady Gaga, Wyclef Jean, Britney Spears, Jason Derulo, Selena Gomez, Usher, Nicki Minaj and heritage acts like Cher and Lionel Richie, do you feel that their artistry impacts your own creative process and identity as an artist? To that point, who is RedOne as an artist? What kind of statement are you making with your own music?
RedOne: The statement has always been the same. Spreading love and great music that lifts people’s souls into a positive space and makes them feel good and want to dance. It’s all about those great melodies and great messages. And I want to release positive energy and great music. That’s why Despacito did what it did, because the world needs that kind of music. Of course, I am a mix of all these artists. My music has always been of mixed cultures. That’s how I was raised early in Morocco listening to all styles of music and all artists influence me, the old legends to the new ones.
MR: How do you feel “Boom Boom” improved your game over your past singles and maybe over your work with other artists?
RedOne: I think “Boom Boom” is an example of who I am—uplifting, and full of positive energy. I don’t really see it as an improvement, more a continuation of who I am. That beautiful journey that I’ve had and that I will have. The music that I’m doing is a blessing.
MR: When you look at what’s happening in production these days, do you feel your productions might have added to the sonics of 2017? Like when you hear various hits, is it possible you hear a little of RedOne influence in them?
RedOne: I think that everyone who does music is somehow inspired or influenced by each other and by the music they've heard growing up. But yes, I believe so, especially the "worldly, positive sound" that you can hear in a lot of songs right now is something that I've always been drawn to and Incorporated in some of my songs and productions throughout my career.
MR: Who’s been influencing your own sonics, songwriting and tech skills?
RedOne: I am a rock guy. I started out playing in bands, singing and playing the guitar so to name a few of my heroes—Europe, Yngwie Malmsteen, Bob Dylan. They all were real musicians but with a great ear for pop melodies.
MR: Who were your early influences and what events steered you toward becoming the producer you are today?
RedOne: Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, and Quincy Jones, among many others. I started as an artist before becoming a producer. But I had too many different styles in my head and I had to get it all out. The only way I could get it all out is to do different styles for different artists. And now that is what I’m doing. I’m bringing artists to me to feature on the songs I want to put out.
MR: You produce recordings for various international artists. When you approach writing and producing for the US market, do you have to stay conscious of certain necessary elements for this territory in your instrumentation, production elements or even mixing? Can you give an example or two?
RedOne: I think back in the day, music was very different in different places, but now with internet, and globalization and with music coming from everywhere, people are more open to all kinds of music. So you can be as creative as you can be without feeling like you have to adjust to a certain territory and genre. You have to be open to cultural differences and different music. Drake is doing an Afro-beat, or Ed Sheeran... That shows you what globalization is doing to people. Music that is coming from Africa is influencing Europe and America.
MR: What have you been dabbling with technology-wise that you feel might soon be applied to hit singles?
RedOne: When it comes to writing, it is always up to the soul and to the talent and the emotional human side. But when it comes to research the technology, you can use technology to see what people are reacting to or not reacting to. So I definitely use that.
MR: You’ve overseen or participated in some creative way with scores of hit records, collected multiple Grammy awards, received plenty of international awards too numerous to list, and received the Moroccan Royal Award for Intellectual Excellence. Is your fireplace mantle big enough to lineup all your awards on?
RedOne: The award is a beautiful reward for your hard work but it doesn’t define me. The truth is I have them in all different places and I have to collect them someday.
MR: Seriously, how do you feel about the impact you’re having on popular music globally?
RedOne: I am happy and humbled that I contribute to popular music and that is something no one can ever take from you. And again, when you are thinking about the big picture it is a blessing from God that I remind myself of every day.
MR: Let’s pretend you never immigrated from Morocco to Sweden. How do you picture life having been like?
RedOne: I’ve tried many times to think what would have happened but I could never. But this is the way it had to happen. It feels like when we are living we are following our path we are supposed to follow. We always try to do the best on our path and work hard.
MR: You’re also a philanthropist, your non-profit 2101 Foundation helping disadvantaged youth through music, arts and education. You’re also associated with A Place Called Home in Los Angeles that empowers young people to improve the quality of their lives and eventually, their community. Was there an evolution with your own social consciousness and what inspired you to take action by helping young people?
RedOne: I can never forget the fact that that I am African and Moroccan. So the idea that I’m helping the people in need is the number one priority all my life and will always be, it’s not like something that I just became familiar with. It is the way, it’s always been the motivation for what I do.
MR: That segues up nicely with my next question. RedOne, what advice do you have for new artists?
RedOne: First, it’s always good to research artistry and music. Then find who you are as an artist—what makes you special. What defines you. And once you figure it out, always work hard. And dream and believe that you can do it. Dream big and believe. You have to believe in yourself and then don’t lost hope and faith.
MR: What else are you working on, what other news do you have, and when can we expect the new RedOne album to drop?
RedOne: At this moment, I’m working with Enrique Iglesias, Daddy Yankee, among others, and I’m developing some new talent that might be tomorrow’s biggest stars. They have the potential to become the next big thing. Right now I’m focusing on hit singles, and that will eventually develop into an album.
MEKLIT’S “YOU ARE MY LUCK” EXCLUSIVE/PREMIERE
According to Meklit...
“‘You Are My Luck’ started out as a simple love song. I had the chorus and part of the verses down but had to complete the tune that crazy week in 2016, when Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were both murdered. I was in my backyard studio, trying to write, but I felt so broken down, so sad and angry. And I was trying to understand how on earth I could write a love song in times like these.
“After a lot of long walks and contemplation, I decided to write about the love that let's you do the work you need to do in the world. Love that let's you ‘carry more weight from the lift that you've been given.’ It's a dance song too, a song for celebrating that kind of love, announcing that we all need the kind of love that can make us strong and full and keep going on our path despite the pressures of the world. It's not only romantic love. It's can be friendship and community too.
“The song is written to the Guragigna beat, from the Gurage ethnic group of Ethiopia. It's one of the few Ethiopian rhythms in 4, and you can feel it similar to a Jazz shuffle, but it's totally different as well. I'm always working from those juxtapositions of Ethiopian and American sounds, and this song has that in its core.
“The video was directed by Salvatore Fullmore, who I've worked with a great deal in the past. From a visual standpoint, we also use these pieces of Ethiopian textiles—themselves based on fractal geometry, and additionally shaped into fractal patterns. Fractal forms just look so good, and psychedelic, and energetic at the same time. And as always, I lwork with strong female friendship as a foundation in my videos. I love my ladies, always!”
A Conversation with Nick Heyward
Mike Ragogna: Nick, your new album Woodland Echoes is beautiful. I didn't realize you've been following a more spiritual, nature-based life.
Nick Heyward: The connection to nature probably happened to me because in 1998, after being on Creation Records, I had a week where I was off Creation Records, off publishing, my relationship with my girlfriend ended, and my mom was told that she had emphysema and she didn't have long to live. All this happened in a short span of time. I was kind of tearing my hair out and feeling lots of pity and anger and angst. It was a time of deep struggle, and then one morning—the 30th of April, 1998—I just fell onto the kitchen floor at about five o'clock in the morning. I was lying there after tearing my hair out and writing, "Bastard! Bastard career! Bastard f**king everything!" So there I was, lying on the floor suddenly in this blissful place, feeling like I had just let go of everything. A thunderbolt of lightning had come down and split through my life. In hindsight, I know exactly what it was, but at the time, I didn't know. I just felt amazing. Blissful. I was thinking, "God, it was only minutes ago that I was feeling the opposite, what on Earth is going on?"
I got up and I started crying tears of joy and I was writing. It was like Nick Heyward had completely disappeared. He was just gone, and all the reasons for him and all the struggle and all the angst against, the reasons why the things weren't happening. The girlfriend, it didn't really matter--bless her, she was just moving on. I was thinking, "Who on earth is this person that's so opposite?" It felt like opposite at the time, but in hindsight, I know it wasn't opposite, but I was at the beginning of a blissful time. That then became being connected to nature.
I remember going to the bookshop and I couldn't find out anything on it. I kept looking up "Falling onto your kitchen floor in a state of bliss," and there wasn't anything on it. The internet wasn't around either. I remember there was one book that I found and I read the beginning; it said, "The origin of this book." It was The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle. That's the closest I could come to explaining what had happened. I thought, "Great! Somebody else! Wow, this is amazing." I was telling my friends at the time and they asked, "Are you okay? You seem completely different. Is everything all right?" I couldn't help it. I just felt like I was in love. I would cry at the sky because it was more turquoise than before. I would cry at the clouds because they were even more gray, and the gray was more beautiful than before. Everything was just more beautiful. The guy in the shop across the road, he was Indian, and I suddenly started to get into deep conversations with him about the universe. Before, all I was doing was buying a Mars bar from him, and here I was getting into long discussions. There was a plumber who came around to unblock my sink and we talked for the rest of the day on how the universe is colliding with itself. Normally, he'd just go in and go. Everything just shifted. I was connected to nature so deeply it was almost like I couldn't contain myself being around it. I'd go to a forest and it was like it was so pumping, so alive, and that's how I felt.
That's why music stopped. I didn't really do much for a while because I was just living completely content for a year, two years. The music world wasn't really favorable to an artist like me. I remember when Creation ended, even Alan McGee said, "Guitar music's gone and dead." I had gotten so into guitar music, I was that person at that time. That had gone. It wasn't favorable, I don't think I would've gotten a record deal if I would've tried around the late nineties and early 2000s.
Then MySpace came along and the internet changed. I was just making music and doodling and sharing it straight away. As an artist, I was actually really happy with that. As an artist I thought, "Ah, I like this new music business, it's great." Then MySpace went and that changed and evolved into something else. Then you could actually make records in your spare room. Equipment got better, Logic got better, microphones got better, home studios got better. I found myself with my son [Oliver] making music and thinking, "Well, actually, this could be released as an album!" So we started to do the process of an album. You're doing that and then as a songwriter, you think, "Oh, I know my role. As a songwriter, has this song reached its full potential?" and you can't lie to yourself. You know if it has or hasn't. When I first started, I thought, "This will take about a week, that'll do," but it doesn't, though. As a songwriter you can't say that. That turned into, "Okay, do some more live playing and that will pay for some mixing. I'll get it mixed by Chris Sheldon and it'll sound even better." I felt like the songwriter had to make the songs reach the full potential, and I feel like I got that. I didn't have Air Studios, I didn't have Geoff Emerick, and I didn't have Paul Buckmaster doing the string arrangements, but for what I made, I felt like craft-wise, the songs reached their full potential.
MR: Maybe nature told you it was time to learn to do that, and since then, you felt when it was the right time to make another solo statement?
NH: Yeah! For want of a better word, it happened organically. I just found myself doing it. Beforehand you just thought, "Okay, go back into the music business. Oh, no, that doesn't feel good." Now I'm just in the business of making music, I'm not in it.
MR: Right, it's on your terms. You're not part of any machine that makes any demands of your creativity and you get to live your life the way you want to live it.
NH: It's very strange, people will say, "Yeah, let's do that, that will be extra money." Because of the consciousness levels of it, because of the awakening, you don't think to yourself, “Yes or no,” on that, you think, "Maybe." It doesn't matter. The actual financial side doesn't matter, because you know just to be on that kitchen floor alive and feeling alive, that connection is what matters. I think that creative place, that feeling that you are the same as the tree, the same process that made this album makes trees. That's what you know. To be in that place, it's terribly frustrating for people around me sometimes. A conscious person can't be blackmailed into anything, emotionally or otherwise. Or sometimes, it takes you ages to do something and then you just let it go anyway. It doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. Once you've let go of anything, you actually know that it is pretty meaningless. They say, "Radio is going to play your record!" and you say, "Okay," and you've immediately thought, "Well, what does that mean?" It means a lot to somebody that it does mean a lot to, but it wouldn't mean anything to a tree. "We're going to cut you down and trim you." "Okay."
MR: Nice perspective. And "I Got A Lot" kind of touches on that idea. You've got a lot to say, but when you get to it, you say, "It doesn't matter."
NH: [laughs] Exactly! We can get completely lost in the restlessness, we can get swept away with it completely, and you know that it doesn't mean anything, really. If you just sit down and close your eyes and breathe, about a minute later, it would all completely mean nothing. It would just evaporate. You've got yourself in a tizzy for nothing.
MR: Let's take that to a higher concept. I think that's how a lot of people are choosing to deal with the state of our political world right now. It's like having to wait out this phase because the Earth is always going to win.
NH: Exactly. We know that it just seems to be the UK and America that are going a bit...
MR: ...daffy? Having a nervous breakdown?
NH: I mean, France isn't going that way. If we were having this conversation in France, we'd be very happy with what's going on. It just seems to be the UK and America that have gone right-wing.
MR: I just wish we had been smarter with our votes, strategically using them as opposed to throwing them away, but whatever. So back to Woodland Echoes. What's really sweet is that every song sort of taps into the next song. I imagine the sequence was important to you for this one, because you are communicating one thing—"I'm in love with everything I see."
NH: Well, yeah. "Mountaintop" has its roots in suffering. When I went over to record with my friend Ian in Key West, he built this houseboat, put a room in there and said, "Let's do some recording." I thought, "Where do I start? I've got thousands of song ideas that I've been singing into my phone." They used to go on cassettes, then I got piles of cassettes, and they'd go into lockup. Then you've got loads on your hard drive, and then you've got loads on the phone. I handed him my phone and said, "Ian, you pick something." We scrolled down and he said, "Oh, 'Mountaintop,' what's that?" I'd just sung into my phone, "I'm in love on a mountaintop."
MR: What’s the song’s origin?
NH: The roots of that were in grief. In early 2000, my parents both got emphysema. They were really close and they died quite close to each other. It was a really sad time for the family. When they died, I was finding it really difficult to grieve. I didn't know why I wasn't grieving. I was actually treating it a bit too spiritually. "It's an honor to be at my mom's death," kind of thing. I suppose the truth inside was, "No, it's not an honor. You're heartbroken, but you're just not expressing it." It was like being dumbstruck. I bought Goodbye, Mr. Chips, the Robert Donat version, in 2008. I rented it and was sitting on my own, which is another reason for being able to express myself. I had my awakening when I was on my own. You never have these things when you're around people. It's in the depths of solitude that you have this deep connection. Here I was in bed watching Goodbye, Mr. Chips and I just lost it at every scene almost. I was completely losing it. I was in tears, floods of tears throughout the film—especially during the mountaintop scene where they suddenly fell in love. He'd never really been in love and had that deep connection and here was this calling. I was losing it the whole time, but the good thing was I was crying. I'd gotten ill through grieving and I didn't know why. I went to the doctor and they said, "It's nothing, you've got nothing, you're fine." I went to a holistic doctor and he said, "You've got suppressed grief." This was the moment to get all that depression out. The truth is, like being on a plane and somebody next to you saying, "Are you okay? You're grabbing the seat," and you say, "Yeah, I'm fine, I'm fine," but your body isn't, because it's sweating. Sweating doesn't lie, it's the truth. I was grieving inwardly but outwardly, I was just getting on with life and being around people and keeping up appearances.
MR: Did you work with your son Oliver on this project?
NH: If the album was a film, Oliver would be the executive producer. He would make sure everything that was recorded was in place. I'm a messy, creative person, so he brings it all back to being tidy and organized. It would go to my friend Phil, and then Ian Shaw, and then it would go off to Chris Sheldon, and Ollie made sure that everything ran smoothly. Even in the recording process, he's really easy to work with. He's like a lava lamp. Everything just works. He's that guy who knows how to untangle stuff really easily. He was like that as a kid. I think he was two when he was cleaning my Portastudio and knowing how it works. I didn't even know how to turn it on. He's brilliant. He's a key man in this and he's great. He's a full-fledged, proper sound engineer now.
MR: My favorite concept that you present on the album is on "Beautiful Morning." I've never heard it put like this, but I understand exactly what you're talking about when you say, "It's a beautiful morning here tonight."
NH: [laughs] I'm glad you're getting all this stuff! When I was doing it, sometimes I would write loads of complicated stuff and I'd trash it all and go back to the first thing. It's actually just a simple thing when you go, "Well, the night doesn't end for me. This is the morning for me. I awakened in the morning, the sun was coming up, it was still getting light, but it was still the night." When is the next day?
MR: And there's that rebirth we feel at night, we know it’s a new phase, and it affects us differently. Many creative artists do their best work in the very late hours.
NH: Four times, I recorded it with different music, different everything, just to get the essence of the morning unfolding gradually, just being there. The “bird” song is my phone out the window, and it was a beautiful Spring morning when I'd stuck the phone on the windowsill. We were living at a place called Number One/The Rise. I really liked it because it was a little cottage in a little valley. I was using the literal sense of it being a beautiful morning to wake up but there was also the timelessness of it. It was a beautiful morning when I woke up, that was where time stopped. I started the album with time and it doesn't stop at the beginning of "Love Is The Key By The Sea." Time, manmade time, slowly dissolves into the music. Then for the rest of the album, there isn't any time. It's a sort of timeless realm. I felt like this was a love story, really. A universal love story. A connection of nature in the middle, in the forest of love. That's where he falls in love. Through it, I feel like I'm different creatures—a cuckoo in the beginning, a bluebird in the middle, an eagle soaring, then going looking through the stars, an owl. You're many kinds of different creatures throughout the album.
MR: Nick, "New Beginning" is a lyric-less song. You recorded a vocal section on there, but there are no words.
NH: No words can express a new beginning. Then it ends up back by the sea with "For Always."
MR: Usually, I accuse artists of creating albums that come together as a full circle, sometime being a concept album. I stopped doing that for a while, but now, sir, j'accuse!
NH: [laughs] That's the creative process, Mike. I was just doing it, and even the creative process of coming up with a title, it was always there, but then, "Ah, it's ‘Woodland Echoes’. Of course it's ‘Woodland Echoes.’" Then when you're compiling it, you're thinking, "How's all this going to work?" and then the next day, you get perspective. You stand back a bit and the running order just starts to run itself. You can't force it. Every time you try to force something, it just says, "No. Let go. Stand back," and you say, "Ah, that's what it is." At first, I wanted twenty songs to be the album because that's what I'd recorded. There's an artist saying, "Right, you want everything that you've done on there," and then the editor for that says, "No, no." The editor is the most creative thing, I think. Like if you're writing a novel, I would imagine. The creative editor inside Ian McEwan is a genius, what he doesn't say, but points to.
MR: I followed your career since Haircut 100. One of my favorite videos was "Love Plus One." That kid on the vine, the freedom that was expressed by that kid, I think it was a forecast of yourself in the future. There isn't much difference between that kid and the guy in the "Baby Blue Sky" video in 2017, is there.
NH: [laughs] I know what you mean! Yeah, yeah. That's the time that's round, isn't it? We think that there’s loads of time because we age, but there's that other thing, where you're always doing the same thing. I've got a tree in the garden that is filled with trumpet vine, and I feel like that's the rope I'm swinging on. It's so beautiful because it attracts all the hummingbirds with this beautiful orange flower, and at the same time, it's strangling the tree and digging up all the roots of the other things. I feel like that's it, too. It's not just duality this is going on in nature. It's a really natural thing to be this beautiful yet destructive thing.
MR: Maybe having that in your yard is nature's wink, combining your “roots” with a lesson?
NH: Yes. Also digging out the roots of the problem because that's going to help the tree to not get strangled and flourish.
MR: Nick Heyward, what advice do you have for new artists?
NH: Continue. One thing leads to another, know that and know that if you are going through hell, keep going. That's the Winston Churchill thing. Just keep going, you've got to. Any kind of creativity, just turn up. Just sit down and do it. One thing does lead to another. That crap thing you do could lead to another crap thing, and then as soon as you think, "Oh I'm crap," an amazing thing comes in. You've just got to keep going. You have to keep going. It's when you give up that you get what you want. It's like searching for your keys. "I can't find them. That's it. They've gone. Oh, there they are." There's always that Doubting Thomas in all young artists, so I would say, just keep going. What can you do? This is what you're doing. Keep going.
MR: Beautiful. I just want you to know From Sunday To Monday is one of my favorite albums. I can sing you every line from it.
NH: No way! Wow!
MR: I had the poster to that album in my office for years. I'm so sorry your record company at the time had no idea what to do with such a great project.
NH: I remember being in LA and K-Rock was playing "How Do You Live Without Sunshine?" every day. Then the record company said, "Oh, come back, do another album," and I was going, "Hold on!" I just thought, "That's going to be the next single, isn't it, if K-Rock is playing it all the time?" It was on every day. I think they called it heavy rotation or something like that, it just seemed to be on all the time. I thought I was going to tour with Crowded House and suddenly, the tour was not on and the plug was pulled. Mike, I still don't know to this day what happened.
MR: That had to be purely executive-related. Somebody doing a wrong, bone-headed move at their label. I feel that album had even more potential hits on it too, like “Ordinary People” and especially "January Man." Even these days, if I want to put on something to enjoy and get me in a good mood, it's often From Monday To Sunday.
NH: That made my day, thank you, Mike. It's lovely to get appreciated, it really is. That's another thing about the wonder of the internet, one of the good things. You get to share this stuff and know this stuff. Before, you just didn't. On From Monday To Sunday, I remember doing interviews and people liking it but you just didn't know what the effect was. Over the years, through the internet, I've had this guy get in touch and he said, "My mom kept playing this song when I was a kid and I didn't know what it was. It was like this magic song, I called it the kite song. When I grew up, I thought, 'Who did that song?'" He got in touch on MySpace or something and told me that, and it's such a lovely, true story. He said, "I just wanted to tell you it had a magical effect on me, that song." It was a beautiful moment.
MR: I think that album was there at just the right time, and it really should have broken. But perhaps Woodland Echoes could be another moment for you. It seems like you're releasing this album in a time and environment where a lot of people need to hear its messages.
NH: It is the Trump environment, isn't it. You can't let it get to you. You can't. It'll bring you down. And you know, like I said, if you go into that silent place, you know that it's bollocks. It's completely meaningless. You're free again.
MR: Sweet, thanks. Nick, tell me a little about the PledgeMusic element.
NH: Once the album was completely finished, we worked with Pledge... to help pay for things like me speaking to you, because I've paid promotions. That's the loveliness of it, being my own label, Gladsome Hawk. There wasn't any major interest in this and that's that whole thing about continuing to do what you do, one thing leading to another. I suppose having your own label means is you can do what you like.
MR: You want to hear a cosmic thing? As you were saying that, quite a few hawks passed overhead.
NH: That's it! That's the synchronicity right there! That's the magic you get into with new consciousness. I don't even think you can call it "new" consciousness, because that's the whole point, isn't it? It's not new or old, it's just timeless.
MR: It's just waking up. Looks like you've woken up.
NH: I feel like I continue to wake up every day. You can just deepen it and deepen it. I've realized that you have to maintain it. It's just like anything else. It's like house blinds in the window. They have to be cleaned and maintained.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
COMMON DEER’S “WAIT!” EXCLUSIVE/PREMIERE
Closing this week’s post with a shot of rebellion, Toronto-based baroque pop band Common Deer share a video for their track “Wait!”—a song off their recently released second EP II. The quintet, which features two sets of siblings led by vocalists Graham McLaughlin and Sheila Hart-Owens, have been given rave reviews for their energized, orchestrated pop found on both EP releases, and their last three songs have hit the Top 10 on the CBC Radio 2 chart. “Wait!” is a hopeful ode to resistance and camaraderie in the face of jaded nihilism. The video is a great introduction to the band with live footage interspersed with backstage moments.